How do we define a "cultural experience"?

A new study examines the definition of culture

Culture Track is a national survey of cultural consumers’ attitudes, motivators and barriers to taking part in cultural experiences. In late November, the national road show to present the 2017 survey results made a stop in the Twin Cities.

The study’s principals offered their conclusions and insights, and a panel of local cultural leaders offered their reactions to the crowd of 170 assembled at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia).

The survey, an initiative of national strategy firm LaPlaca Cohen first conducted in 2001, has two data sets. One follows key trends within a select set of cultural activities, remaining constant since the survey’s inception. The second tracks responses to updated questions that are future-focused and intended to help cultural institutions adapt to the evolving landscape. Together the data sets comprise some 4,000 respondents’ input. Demographic characteristics (age, gender, race) and geography closely mirror the U.S. population.

Culture Track ’17 delivers thought-provoking trends for nonprofit cultural institutions, but also for businesses engaged in offerings within the broad definition of “culture.” In fact, one of the key findings is that respondents have a vastly expanded definition of culture, “democratized even further [than prior studies], possibly to the point of extinction.”

Read full article here.

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A Hand Up for Newcomers

Minnesota philanthropic leaders came together early this year to establish a funding collaborative that supports nonprofits serving the state’s immigrants and refugees. Solidarity MN is a partnership among more than a dozen of the state’s foundations, including several of the largest. The group recently awarded its first round of $2,500 grants to nonprofits across Minnesota, and it will offer larger grants in its second funding round this fall.

The aim of Solidarity MN is to support nonprofits led by and serving immigrants and refugees. These organizations are experiencing unusual stress, both in service demand and heightened information needs of their target populations.

The surge in service needs paralleled heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the 2016 presidential campaign. Since President Trump took office, confusion and fear among Minnesota’s vulnerable newcomers has increased. The service pressures on Minnesota nonprofits are linked to the Trump administration’s shifting rules for entry into the U.S. from different countries, court battles over interpretations of the president’s executive orders, and the increasing number of arrests by immigration authorities.


Somali American Community Radio is among the nonprofit organizations to receive $2,500 grants from Solidarity MN, a new funding collaborative that supports nonprofits who serve immigrants and refugees.

Solidarity MN represents a different perspective, one that embraces Minnesota’s tradition of welcoming new citizens and recognizes the role of nonprofits in doing so. Solidarity MN cites the large number of foreign-born workers in the state (10 percent of the workforce), the contributions of immigrants to Minnesota’s vibrant cultural life (the nation’s largest Hmong population and one-third of U.S. Somali residents call Minnesota home), and the number of immigrant-owned businesses that are contributing to the state’s economy (some 16,000 businesses employing 53,000 workers are owned by immigrant entrepreneurs).

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An interview with Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett is host and executive producer of On Being, which she describes as “a social enterprise with a radio show at its heart.” A 2014 recipient of the White House National Humanities Medal, Tippett is known for probing interviews that explore the questions of what it means to be alive and how we want to live together. On Being is broadcast weekly on 400 public radio stations and in 2016 was downloaded 28 million times for on-demand listening. Full disclosure: I was an executive at American Public Media when we worked with Tippett to develop the show and launch it nationally.

Beyond the radio program, but equally distinctive, is the organization’s Civil Conversations Project. TCB spoke with Tippett at On Being’s offices on Loring Park in Minneapolis. We talked about the ways Tippett’s work is newly resonant and how On Being, a nonprofit, is adapting and growing in our contentious times. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Krista Tippett

TCB: Tell me about The Civil Conversations Project

We have been incubating it quietly since 2011. We’re finding that since last fall’s election, civil conversation is what people want. So we’ve created a standalone website,, and we’ve hired staff to make it a more active resource. Immediately after the election we created a resource called Better Conversations: A Starter Guide. It is meant for people in local places—neighborhoods, families and workplaces.

TCB: Didn’t you start the project with public conversations at the Humphrey Institute?

Yes. We did one with Francis Kissling and David Gushee exploring abortion (“Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue”), and we did one on “The Future of Marriage” with David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch. These were live events, taped for broadcast. They were both pivotal because even though the culture has progressed, the same conversations are still happening and remain vital.

TCB: Is the goal to find common ground?

We are very results-oriented as Americans. We want transformation to occur in one meeting.

But what I’ve learned from wise people I’ve interviewed is that where there’s deep and emotional difference, that’s not realistic. In fact, if you impose the requirement that you have to find common ground, you narrow what’s possible. I think what we’re trying to do, the learning curve we have culturally, is get away from the idea that we need to resolve our deep differences. Some of these deep differences are very entrenched, they have a lot of reasons that make profound sense on all sides, and they’re not going to be resolved any time soon.

But there is still the question of how we live together. There is still the question of what kind of common life we create, and the realities we’re nurturing for our children. We need to get away from the lightning-rod way of framing things as “for and against,” and instead reframe in terms of what’s at stake for all of us, as opposed to what’s our common ground.

TCB: So how can people discover their common stake?

People have to come together around what matters to them. Whether someone is left of center or right of center on any given issue, most of us have some questions alongside our answers. We have some curiosity and we really would like to understand what makes the other side tick. We would like to get into a trustworthy and safe space where we could ask some questions and get some answers.

TCB: How do you practice? What do you say to a person who says, “I want to do better at this”?

We can’t expect to have a different experience if we just walk into the same kinds of meetings and debates. I am talking about physical space, but I’m also talking about psychological space. We have to carve out some different places where different ground rules are in effect.

We’re all too on edge to say to someone on the other side, “Come, I really want to understand you,” or, “Come, explain yourself to me.” But at this moment, people are reflective. They want to know “How have I been part of this? What don’t I know? What do I need to do better?” Part of the work now is to lean into these questions, to ask them and to ask them with others. Who do you know in your world who might be open to coming to this and just talking? Reach out to them.

TCB: We have a large Muslim population in the Twin Cities. Which programs might help people understand this religion?

Listen to the show we did called “Revealing Ramadan,” which was created from interesting and beautiful stories from listeners. Ramadan is a month long. It’s a very serious, intense observance. Anyone who has Muslim coworkers is going to see it. I don’t think we’re that comfortable—and maybe for good reason—when we’re in workplaces, asking our religious colleague to tell us about their holiday or “Tell me about fasting.” It could be really useful to send around [a link to the Ramadan program] in the workplace and say, “We have Muslim colleagues who are observing this,” and then see what else could spark conversations.

TCB: What’s next?

There’s suddenly been a surge of interest in our work and in the Civil Conversations Project from the business community. I think it’s about what’s going on in the culture, and what people are coping with in their daily lives and families. It has to be showing up at work, too. To follow the Civil Conversations Project, visit On Being’s website at

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Theaters of Color Coalition column from Twin Cities Business

Nonprofit theater has grown up over the past two generations and the norms for its business model are now well established. This has resulted in a set of best-practice expectations for metrics like the optimal percentage of earned vs. contributed income, the expected capacity of seats sold per performance, and other indicators. If a theater company’s aspirations and activities stray from these norms, it will spend extra time explaining its rationale to grantmakers and contributors, if the organization is eligible to apply at all.

Data show that among the theaters in the U.S. that originate in and serve communities of color, these norms are difficult to achieve and sustain. A national study of museums, theaters and dance companies dedicated to reflecting and encouraging artmaking and cultural programming among communities of color identified serious funding challenges. Published in September 2015 by the University of Maryland’s DeVos Institute of Arts Management, the study showed these organizations tend to receive far less than proportional funding from organized philanthropy compared to local population data. It also documented that they traditionally have had limited access to high net worth individuals and civic leaders who could advocate for, fund or otherwise support their efforts.


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What's fear got to do with it?

Initially published on Speaker, Sarah Lutman's blog on

In 2014 the Wyncote Foundation commissioned Lutman & Associates to research digital adoption by legacy cultural institutions. The resulting study, Like, Link, Share: How cultural institutions are embracing digital technology, showcases the awesome creative work of 40 cultural organizations and shares common themes and lessons learned among these leading practitioners.

When I spoke about the report at conferences and meetings, arts leaders’ responses were frequently that they knew they “should be” engaging digitally, but they feel overwhelmed about beginning. Surprisingly, the most frequent response from arts leaders was not excitement, but instead fear. Fear of missing out. Fear of getting started. Fear of not knowing what to do after beginning. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of not having enough time or money. Fear of incompetence. Fear of adding more stuff to do on top of already busy jobs.

We were intrigued by the intensity and consistency of this reaction and wanted to provide support. As a result, discussions with Wyncote led them to commission Wayfinding and Wandering: Navigating the Digital Engagement Landscape, or Wanderway, for short.

Launching this week, Wanderway is a free online course in seven parts, designed to walk users through the necessary steps toward creative and sustainable digital engagement. The goals of the course are to provide encouragement, build confidence, and offer useful tools and know-how so that arts organizations, artists, and creative small businesses can connect with, engage, and serve more people in the ever-evolving online environment. It is designed with the resource-strapped in mind.

Wanderway is a different kind of course.

Wanderway focuses on engagement and relationship-building. It aims to help you expand your reach and develop substantive interactions with fans, allies, and collaborators using the wide range of digital tools available today. These transformative possibilities are available to those who overcome their fear of digital technology and commit to the process of learning new tools and ways to connect.

There are plenty of courses available that provide technical knowledge and skill-building exercises, such as the Google Analytics Academy, or courses available through Coursera or Khan Academy. Many are written with the assumption of a higher level of basic knowledge and experience on the part of the user.

Also, most existing online courses target sales and marketing objectives – using digital tools to get more money, more transactions. Wanderway was created with the belief that while more contributions or ticket sales can be a by-product of digital engagement, they are not the goal. Engagement can be significantly more meaningful and have greater impact if audiences are treated as conversation partners and collaborators rather than customers and consumers.

Digital engagement as creative practice

Wanderway addresses the emotions life of digital practitioners by approaching engagement as a creative practice. In creative practice we begin, try things, learn, and start again. A beginner’s mind is a necessity and a strength, not a liability. Creative practice expects “mistakes”—they’re part of the process. Iteration is constant. It’s how we learn. And fear is something most artists and creative workers know a great deal about because it is their constant companion.

Fear doesn’t stop the creative artist. Or as poet Carolyn Forche puts it, “Courage does not mean you are not afraid; courage means a door opens and you walk through.”

So, open the door and walk through

Wanderway invites your participation. We also invite your feedback. Please check out the course, try the exercises and reflections, read the interviews, and, if you like it, share these resources with others.

Thanks to the amazing collaborators who built the course with me: Beck Tench, independent educator, writer, speaker, and practitioner, whose work explores creativity and experimentation in digital engagement; and Jessica Fiala, company member of Ragamala Dance Company, independent scholar, and colleague.

We’ve had a lot of fun packing the course with tools that are free and accessible to anyone, and getting to know the dozens of artists and organizations whose work we feel privileged to highlight.

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